Personal Affects, May 15, 2020

Published 9:49 am Friday, May 15, 2020

By JERRY SAMPSON

Question: Hi Jerry, I inherited these candle lusters from my aunt more than 30 years ago. I used them only for Christmas for years. But here lately I keep them out on my sideboard. I love them and the fancy gold tracings. The prisms are old and are in good condition with no chips. Do they have much value? I really wanted to ask, how did they put candles in them? I was told they were from the 1920s.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings. Loves.

Answer: These are great mantle lustres. Note the spelling here. These might have been bought in the 1920s but are really going to date to the 1890s to the early 1900s. They were used to add some color and sparkle to a room — usually on a mantlepiece, a table or an etagere. Repeat after me, “These are not meant to have ANY flame or candle around them.” I swear, I don’t know where this ever came from.

These weren’t meant to have candles in them, or flowers for that matter. If a burning taper, votive or tea light is put in them, they will break. Even if the flame doesn’t touch the glass, the heat will break them.

Battery operated tea lights are fine, they have no heat to them, and they are really pretty. Many aren’t sealed on the bottom and that means that they will leak when filled with water. Don’t do these things. They were just meant to be pretty. 

Don’t wash with ammonia water either. Sure, its makes them sparkle, but it will also, over time, strip off the gold decorations. A cup of white vinegar in your soapy wash water is fine.

The color is what old time dealers called, Pigeon’s Blood, which I think is a romantic term for ruby glass. At one time these were the height of style, but as soon as the bobbed hair and the rolled stockinged ladies took over, they went into the unwanted pile, which is a shame because I think they are gorgeous.

Let’s talk about your prisms or spears as some dealers call them. Keep them safe. Because they are as rare as hens teeth anymore. If you had to replace these nice prisms, from an antiques store, you’ll pay $20 – $25 each for them. Also use a delicate hand if you take the prisms off. The wires aren’t just metal, they’re zinc, and zinc is very soft. These too will break. It’s a major pain to re-wire them with wire.

Their popularity waxes and wanes. They are fancy, fine and fussy, not high attributes today. When I first opened back in 1992, these would sport a price of about $900. A nice red pair like these with good prisms, today will sell for about $300. Keep them out and enjoy them. Thanks for a great question.